By now, you have probably studied the Japanese language for months or even years. You may be wondering how good your Japanese is and may want to test your abilities. Currently, The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT, 日本語能力試験) is the most recognized Japanese language proficiency test for non-native speakers. The test is available in 65 countries (as of 2013). JLPT has five levels. Level one (1-kyuu, １級) is the hardest and level five (5-kyuu, ５級) is the easiest. With the exception of a few countries, you can take the JLPT twice a year (July and December).
Unless you hope to get a very nice job in Japan, the highest level is hardly required. The minimum proficiency required for most jobs is the 2-kyuu level. Still, 2-kyuu is not that easy, and you might want to know if it will be worth it to spend your money and time taking the test. And, what about the lower levels, like 3-kyuu, 4-kyuu, or 5-kyuu? Is there any practical reason to take them?
Some people would say “No.” Since the JLPT doesn’t test speaking at all, and it barely tests writing, some say that there’s no reason to take the JLPT if you just want to speak Japanese.
They might be right. If you think you’re speaking Japanese pretty well and your Japanese friends always say that you’re ペラペラ (fluent) in the language, why do you need to spend a significant amount of money and time on a multiple choice test?
But I don’t need to take the JLPT…
I have to point out the unpleasant reality. I apologize if this sounds harsh. You might not be as good at Japanese as you think, especially if you’ve learned the language mostly through daily conversations with your friends, or by watching dramas and anime. In other words, unless you have studied Japanese by taking classes, either in-person or online (like with us!), you’d best off not trusting your ability in the language. Why? Because, simply put, normal people are normally nice! Think about the situation where you have a friend from another country who is learning to speak your language. His grammar and vocabulary are terrible and he makes many mistakes speaking the language. But you’ve been able to communicate with him. It’s hard to point out his mistakes, especially if he has become quite confident in his speaking. So, you probably won’t.
So, I’d like to encourage all the Japanese language learners, particularly those “self-taught learners” (probably many of our users!), to take the JLPT, even at the lower levels. By preparing for the test, you may realize that you have memorized some grammatical constructions incorrectly. You’ll sound much better and sophisticated if you obtain a good “foundation” of grammar. The test result will show you how “correct” your Japanese really is. Which means, by passing the test, you can tell that you’re on the “right track.”
It’s painful to study all the kanji and grammar that’s required for the test. Even the easiest level (5-kyuu) requires you to know around 100 kanji! But if you feel passion for the language and the culture, you can do it! The next JLPT right around the corner on July 6th. If you aren’t registered for it, don’t worry! You’ll have another chance in December. がんばりましょう！